There was a Hot Guy on the trail, and Steve Rogers didn't know what to do with the situation.
"You realize this isn't a situation, right?" his friend Sam drawled after Steve had finished complaining about Hot Runner Guy's broad chest and cool hair. "This literally is not a big deal. You can just take a different trail, if it bothers you so much."
"I don't want to take a different trail," Steve sighed, knowing he was being dramatic and fully enjoying it. "I like my trail. It's got great views."
"Yeah, I've been hearing about the views for the past three weeks." Sam rolled his eyes and finally looked away from the TV to where Steve was scowling on the couch. "I don't know what your problem is. Just say hi. Since when are you shy? It took you like five minutes to introduce yourself to me when I moved in."
"You weren't Hot Runner Guy. I mean," Steve backpedaled at Sam's look of outrage. "You're hot, absolutely, but I didn't know that when I first came over, did I? I'm sure if I met you out running I wouldn't know what to say to you either."
Sam pointed at Steve. "Narrow save, but I'll allow it. My point still stands though - just talk to the guy, if you're so into him."
"I've been trying!" This was only partially true. Hot Runner Guy had shown up in Prospect Park three weeks ago, running the same path as Steve - sometimes clockwise, sometimes counterclockwise, but always the same trail. Steve had almost tripped over himself the first time he'd seen him. Most runners were more slim, the cardio lengthening their muscles rather than bulking them up, but Hot Runner Guy looked and ran like a tank. The guy was big. He had a face like a movie star, long dark hair, pretty blue eyes, and was slowly ruining Steve's life.
Three days after Hot Runner Guy had consistently been on the same trail as Steve, Steve had figured he'd do the polite thing and say hello next time they passed. After all, if they'd be sharing the trail every morning, it made sense to at least acknowledge each other's presence. Steve'd tried to catch the guy's eye, maybe offer up the universal head-nod of solidarity, but Hot Runner Guy was focused. He didn't even look over at Steve as he jogged past, and Steve could take a hint. Some people didn't like distractions when they exercised.
It didn't stop him from trying, though. The next week, he made a point to get to the park a little later than he usually did. Hot Runner Guy tended to show up around 6:00 am, so Steve lingered and stretched at the entrance from Park Slope, hoping to at least get out a "good morning" when the guy came by.
Turned out, Hot Runner Guy had a Hot Runner Buddy: a gorgeous redhead who looked like she ate men for fun. The two seemed pretty close. They arrived together and ran together, oftentimes passing Steve on his path. It was a new form of torture, because Hot Runner Buddy seemed to enjoy talking while she ran - every time Steve passed them, she was murmuring something under her breath - and Steve got to hear Hot Runner Guy's low voice answering her. The first day, she'd said something to Hot Runner Guy that had sent him tripping forward, shoving her away with a laugh that had completely devastated Steve. Hot Runner Guy was attractive enough when he was focused on his run. Seeing him smile was almost too much.
Steve had decided to wait and see if Runner Buddy kept pairing off with Hot Runner Guy. If she did, then maybe Steve could approach the both of them together, and not make such a mess of himself. This week, though, Runner Guy was alone again, and Steve was starting to get fed up with the situation. "It's just," he said to Sam, "it feels like I waited too long to say anything, and now it'd be weird if I suddenly said hi to him."
"It is not. A big. Deal," Sam insisted. "What's the worst that can happen? Either the dude is friendly, and you can woo him before boning down." Steve squawked, scandalized. Sam ignored him. "Or, the dude is a dick, and you move on. If you think it'll be a problem after that, you can come join the gym with me and Clint."
"I'm not shelling out 80 bucks a week to run on a treadmill when I can run in the park for free," Steve insisted.
"And I'm not shelling out free relationship advice when the UFC is on," Sam said, smug and comfortable on Steve's armchair, watching Steve's TV, and eating Steve's allergen-free chips unashamedly. "I mean, look at this guy! He could break you in half."
The distraction of ultimate fighting could only last so long, though, and the next morning found Steve knee-deep in The Situation again. Hot Runner Guy was alone - Steve'd passed him twice on the trial and kept his head up each time, ready to smile if they made eye contact. Hot Runner Guy was as focused as ever, though, and Steve refused to be one of those guys that skeezily checked out somebody while they worked out, even if that body was so very very pretty and was wearing a "Nasty Woman" runner's shirt.
Steve was a little in love.
He stopped at the pavilion for his cool down, not surprised to see it full on a Saturday morning. Aside from one open bench, the rest of the space was taken up by what looked to be an outdoor fitness group. Steve quickly claimed the bench as his own and propped his foot up into a runner's lunge. He'd worked through most of his leg stretches, reveling in the ache in his calves and feet, when he heard a grunt from his right.
Hot Runner Guy was standing there. Hot Runner Guy was standing there - dark hair windblown, lips red, and face healthily flushed. (Who looked that good after exercising? Steve was a little outraged.) Hot Runner Guy was standing there, looking at the full pavilion exasperatedly, breathing a bit heavy. Finally, he huffed and settled at the other end of Steve's bench to begin his own stretches.
Steve wanted to simultaneously cheer and sink into the floor. Hot Runner Guy was right here. He was stretching next to Steve.There'd be nothing wrong with saying hello, right? They ran the same trail. They were sharing the same bench. That put them a step above strangers, didn't it? It wouldn't be weird now, right?
Steve grappled with himself the entire time he stretched out his hamstrings."Just say hello," he told himself firmly, coming out of his stretch determined. "It'll only be awkward if you let it be awkward." He looked over - Hot Runner Guy had bent into a low, very impressive lunge - and Steve turned away to ostensibly stretch his shoulders.
"Bullshit," he thought, frustrated with himself. If this guy were anybody else but Hot Runner Guy, Steve would have at least said good morning at this point. He couldn't let the guy's amazing chest and cute hair get in the way of basic courtesy. So what if the guy was hot? He was still a person. What was the worst that could happen?
Steve was going to do this. His stomach twisted in knots, and he suddenly found that he had the energy to run another five miles, preferably in any direction away from Hot Runner Guy - but Steve was always down to fight, even against his own shyness, so he breathed in, grit his teeth, and turned around, still stretching his arm across his chest. "Good run?" he asked, giving his best casual-friendly-face to Hot Runner Guy.
Hot Runner Guy almost fell over. He looked up, bewildered, dark hair plastered over his forehead. "What?"
Steve's heart rabbited in his chest. "Stay calm. Be friendly," he thought. "Friendly."
"The run," he clarified with a smile, feeling like an idiot but determined not to show it. "Good day for it, huh?"
"Oh." Hot Runner Guy blinked and frowned a little. He looked out at the crisp Brooklyn morning and shrugged. "Yeah, I guess."
"I'm Steve," Steve pressed on, too deep in the conversation now to stop. Steve didn't run from fights. If he left now, the awkwardness would win. Instead he waved a bit, like a dork. "I've seen you around a lot lately - figured I should introduce myself." Which was absolutely true, and absolutely what he would've said to any other human being in this situation.
"Oh." Hot Guy blinked again and mirrored Steve's small wave. "Bucky."
Steve experienced a very strange feeling of delight - Hot Runner Guy's name was Bucky? That was so cute - mixed with extreme guilt. Bucky was looking at Steve, his eyes bright blue and clearly waiting for Steve to give a reason for having interrupted Bucky's stretching routine. Steve hated those guys that bothered people while they worked out. Was Steve that guy? It was time to cut his losses and get the hell out of this conversation.
"Nice to meet you, Bucky." He forced himself to grin. Sam always said he had a nice smile. Smile, Rogers. Bucky blinked slowly. "Well hey, I'll, uh, let you get back to it," Repeating his dorky wave, Steve forced himself to be casual. "Have a good one - see you around!"
He barely registered Hot Guy's reply - "Yeah, same, thanks." - before he calmly turned and walked ("Walk. Don't run. Don't be awkward. Walk. Be cool. Walk.") back towards the park's exit.
He dialed Sam as soon as he hit the street. "
Why are you calling me at the asscrack of dawn on a Saturday?" Sam answered pleasantly.
"It's past 8:00."
"If it's not noon, then it's asscrack. You're lucky Clint already called on his way to work, or I would not be this forgiving."
Steve ignored him, and launched into his report. "So his name is Bucky," he said, "and he was very cool and laid back while I had verbal diarrhea all over the place." Sam started to laugh on the other end of the line. "Shut up. I made myself look like an idiot in front of a hot person - a really cool, hot person. My life is over."
"Well if you can put off your life ending until after 7:00 tonight," Sam teased. "Clint decided this morning that he wants us to meet his girlfriend and is providing pizza. You in?"
Of course Steve was in, on the proviso that there would be a cheeseless pizza for him as well as no blazingly hot, fit, and cool guys that were entirely out of Steve's league.
"Why do you let me go outside?" Bucky whined into his phone, back flat on the bench where he'd laid down to will himself into death. "Why do you let me leave the apartment? I never look like an idiot in the apartment."
"You always look like an idiot, in the apartment or out," Natasha said blithely. "You need a haircut."
"What?" Bucky sat up, affronted. "No I don't." He ran a hand over his hair. "It's an undercut. I'm hip." Bucky had this on good authority. At least half of his students complimented his hair every semester, and Bucky wasn't so far gone on science that he thought it was the only reason his lectures were so full. "I'm the hottest professor on campus - there was a poll."
"Exactly," Natasha laughed in his ear. "So stop thinking you look like an idiot. This is about Brick House Boy Scout who runs with you, right? What happened? You trip over your feet again?"
"His name is Steve," Bucky moaned.
"You talked to him?" He could practically hear Natasha's eyebrows rise.
"No," he said bitterly, dropping back down to the bench. "He talked to me. He was all nice and civil and introducing himself, and I gaped at him like I didn't know English." One of the ladies with the fitness group gave him the stink eye, but he didn't care. He'd just run eight miles and ruined his romantic chances with Hot Steve. He was allowed to lie down for a second. Natasha laughed again. "I do know English," Bucky whined, encouraged by Natasha's amusement and only hamming it up a little. "I know lots of English. I know how to be charming in English, even!"
"That's debatable," Natasha said dismissively. "So you blew your chance, huh?"
Bucky glared at the dawning sky. "I don't know what's wrong with me. I kept staring at his chest. Stop laughing. Why did I call you? You're enjoying this. I need compassion."
Natasha tsk-ed. "Tough. I'm out of compassion, but you can pick me up some from Barkely's before you get back. Double shot, mocha."
Bucky sighed and hefted himself off the bench. "Yeah, okay." He sighed again. "I've been working up the nerve to talk to this guy for weeks, Natasha, and I blew it. I don't think I managed anything longer than a single syllable the entire conversation."
"I believe it. I've never seen you clam up like you did last week. Usually you're Mr. Friendly." Natasha said it like being polite to your neighbors was an unfortunate character flaw.
"Yeah, well, I got nervous. Sue me." Another woman came and parked her stroller nearly on top of Bucky's bench - he took the hint and left the pavilion. "He was so friendly, too, Natasha," Bucky groaned, actually feeling guilty at how he'd barely engaged with Hot Steve. "He didn't even seem bothered that I was a scumbag human." Bucky deliberately didn't mention Steve's smile, which had left him unable to socially function. Natasha didn't need to know quite how pathetic Bucky was.
"I don't see why you're upset, then. If he wasn't put off, then that means you didn't blow your chance," Natasha said rationally, then paused. "Clint's calling. I'm hanging up now. See you soon."
"Sure, flaunt your successful and loving relationship in my face. See if I care," Bucky drawled before hanging up and huffing a foggy breath into the chill Brooklyn air. He frowned. "Fuck it." Usually he loved running in the cold - he tended to overheat easily, and he felt justified wearing long sleeves to hide his prosthesis when the weather dropped. It was one of the reasons he'd started running in Prospect to begin with. He'd tried Clint's gym for a few months before getting fed up with people staring at his arm, and Prospect was so large and filled with enough people usually that he felt anonymous.
He wasn't expecting somebody like Brick House Boy Scout Steve to be on the trails. People like Brick House Boy Scout Steve only existed in comic books and movies like Magic Mike. Bucky'd noticed him the first morning he'd started jogging in the park - and not just because the guy was all muscle and tight shirts and shiny blond hair. What had drawn Bucky's attention was the fact that Steve had been three seconds away from starting a brawl with a group of older men that had clearly been heckling a young lesbian couple.
Bucky'd been ready to run over and help, but the older men had left before he could do anything. Still, Bucky'd figured that he'd at least go over and make sure everything was alright, and to maybe introduce himself, because no way was he passing up saying hello to a guy with a shoulder-waist ratio like that. But then the two girls had said something to Steve, and right in front of Bucky's eyes the hot buff dude had blushed and rubbed the back of his neck like some kind of aw-shucks good Samaritan.
"Oh no," Bucky had despaired. "He's hot and nice." After that, it was a done deal. Bucky suddenly couldn't run anywhere in the park without crossing paths with Brick House Boy Scout, and all of Bucky's purported charm shriveled up every time he saw that blond head bobbing along the trails.
It had gotten so bad that Natasha had gotten curious and joined him at the park. She'd agreed that Brick House Boy Scout was a force to be reckoned with, and she had zero issue messing with Bucky as they jogged. "The guy should really invest in some anti-bounce shirts," she'd murmured to Bucky the first time she'd seen him, and Bucky had practically tripped off the trail. "He must do pilates or something for an ass like that," she'd observed next while Bucky kept his head down, determined not to stare. He'd finally forbidden Natasha from joining him after she'd pointed out that you could totally see the guy's junk when he ran.
"Stop objectifying the hot guy," he'd told her playfully. "If you're not going to ogle respectfully, then you can leave."
This had the unfortunate consequence of leaving Bucky alone and unprepared for this morning, when Brick House Boy Scout had introduced himself as Steve, smiled, and melted Bucky's brain.
He sighed again into the cold air and shoved his hands into his pockets, moping at the sidewalk. Around him, the streets of South Slope were still relatively quiet; the few early risers like Bucky minding their business along their way.
Barkley's was similarly scarcely occupied - thank goodness for that. Barkley's was a cramped, max-capacity-10 breakfast and coffee joint that catered to hipsters and vegetarians, didn't have working A/C, and was a fire hazard waiting to happen. Natasha refused to set foot in it, though she had no problem with getting her coffee from Bucky and Clint. This was because, despite its coffin-like interior and unfortunate decor (animal heads. everywhere.), Barkley's churned out some of the best coffee this side of the Atlantic.
It was the main reason Clint worked there. He was manning the front, looking as disastrous as always: His nose was bandaged again, his face was covered in scratches, and his blond hair and what looked like pajamas were so messy and rumpled that he looked like he'd been sleeping up until exactly two seconds ago.
Honestly, Bucky thought fondly, Natasha had no place to mock Bucky for his romantic interests. They both clearly had a shared weakness for dorky, muscled blonds.
"Hey, man!" Clint looked up and yelled over the three people separating Bucky from the register. "Got your order ready." Bucky pushed through, handed Clint a ten, and reverently took and knocked back a double espresso.
Clint nodded and shoved forward a wrapped burrito and what must have been Natasha's drink before starting on the waiting orders. "Here. Eat that. 'Tasha said you would need the protein to get over your humiliation."
"Oh my god," Bucky moaned, but took the burrito anyway. "She told you."
"Of course she told me. There's no secrets between soulmates," Clint said over the scream of milk steaming, before pausing. "Don't tell her I said that." He poured the steamed milk into a waiting shot and burned his thumb on the wand. "Aw ow." Somehow, between shaking his hand and swearing viciously, Clint managed to pour a perfect fern leaf in the foam, shove half a muffin in his mouth, and wink outrageously at Bucky at the same time. "Apparently you drooled all over Hottie with the Body at Prospect."
"Okay, the story is a little more complex than that."
A man cleared his throat behind Bucky pointedly. "Man, you're blocking the line."
"'Tasha's gonna want that soon anyway," Clint gestured at the mocha at Bucky's elbow. "Tell me what went down later tonight. If you don't have plans, she's gonna bring you to mine later for pizza. That'll cheer you up."
"Only if Lucky is there."
Clint pointed at Bucky seriously over the register, handing off a large iced coffee to the impatient guy. "Stop trying to steal my dog, Barnes."
"No promises!" Bucky grabbed Natasha's drink and waved off Clint. By the time he'd made it back to his neighborhood, the caffeine had kicked in, the burrito had settled warmly in his stomach, and the world seemed to be a bit less helpless for it. So what if he'd made himself look like a fool in front of Hot Steve? He could redeem himself somehow tomorrow morning. He could be smooth, and he'd prove it. He just needed time to prepare, mentally.
He'd work out the details with Clint and Natasha tonight, where his brain would be free to function properly without the distraction of Perfect Hot Steve and his Perfect Face.